Oh how I have missed writing. I feel like I am filled way beyond capacity and I might just burst and leave words strung about the coffee shop. Words hanging from the lights and getting stepped on underfoot as they try to determine just what in the heck happened in here. They would, at some point, string all the words together and find that it was me, bursting from the unwritten words inside of me.

Hi.

I’ve had quite an exciting few weeks – the highlight of which was my vacation which I wrote about last time, followed very closely by my trip to the United Kingdom and Switzerland. Vacation wins without even a fight because it was with my family – it was time for us to bond and shore one another up after a long hard season of travel and time apart. The trip abroad though, is another wholey unique experience. I scarce even can find a place to start.

I guess I will start with this – we live in an incredibly diverse and different world. We are so different from one another that, while others may marvel at the number of wars that have been fought, I tend to marvel that we haven’t just outright destroyed ourselves by now. We are incredibly different.

Visiting the United Kingdom – we spent our time in York, but also drove through Nottingham and Northampton for business meetings – visiting the UK was truly eye opening. I’ll list my top five reasons for writing that:

1. We are so incredibly isolated.

Looking at a map and seeing all the various countries crowded upon one another is abstract. But being there you can almost feel the weight of the other countries. The United Kingdom is made up of four distinct regions: England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland. It is approximately just under the size of two New Jersey’s. I believe if you were to lay a map over all of Europe – the United States would be an equivalent geographic area to cover 20+ countries.

Were we to have made our 18 hour drive vacation around Europe rather than to the coast we would have visited numerous countries with a very diverse set of cultures and customs. Driving 18 hours in the United States will get you into some diverse cultures as well, but there is something about being a foreigner that is a far cry from being in a neighboring state with a different style of barbecue.

There is a stereotype that Americans are geographically ignorant. And many of us are, of Europe. I felt both defensive and embarrassed by this. Many of us know the United States like the back of our hand. But I will be the first to admit that I have to consult a map to find most countries (I do, at least, typically start in the right general area).

What struck me though is how logical this actually is – when you are raised taking vacations in neighboring countries, when your history includes wars with neighboring countries, when your politics and culture and family is mix of neighboring countries – you tend to learn about those countries. When the cost of visiting a neighboring country is the equivalent of flying to a neighboring state – it makes sense to invest in a passport. Of course Europe would have a better grasp of Europe than Americans. I wonder how many European’s can find all 50 states on a map…

All this to say that stereotypes exist because they is typically a grain of truth in them. The work is in thinking beyond the stereotypes to identify why something is true – what are the key drivers of that truth.

2. The United Kingdom is green, really green.

There is a lot of green space, a lot. According to an article from the BBC*, more than 98% of the country has not been built upon. As a matter of fact, you can really only build on land that has already been built on in the past. It is amazing to see so much green space in a country so old. It seems like, by now, they would have such a population issue that they would have to begin using up all of their land, but it is simply not so. A chap we were talking with about this said that it would be interesting to see what happens as the population grows – but I have high hopes, after all, their population has been growing since, well, since 30,000 years ago according to Wikipedia.

*http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-18623096

3. The UK is a polite country

In so many ways, they are polite. For starts, there is very little neon. The street signs, historic signs, etc are all quaint and lovely to look upon.

The street lights switch to red, then to yellow, then to green. This may not seem like a fact that belongs under the topic of politeness but you have to experience it. Come to find out we all sit just waiting to pounce, trying to strain and see if we can tell what color the light is for the cross traffic, anticipating jumping off the line and getting on our way. In the UK, you sit peacefully and get a few second heads up that it is about time to carry on. Polite.

An ambulance went by one evening and they only turned their siren on during intersections so as not to disturb people in their homes, it was explained.

And then there are the people themselves. I have never heard the word proper used quite so often. (Proper coppers was one of my favorite) Do you take your coffee with proper milk, for instance. Something about the idea of doing things properly seems so… British.

4. I still feel related.

I didn’t feel it in Switzerland. But in the UK, I totally felt like we were related. On the same team. Something about the fact that we have remained allies despite fighting so desperately for our independence is quite nice. Their history felt like it was, in a cousin sort of way, part of our history.

5. There is no place like home.

I loved it. I want to go back. There is a lot of things I wish we had kept as part of our culture. It’s a beautiful country and I love meeting my co-workers and getting to know them. It was such a great experience to really see another culture and look beyond the stereotypes and stories.

But home is home. Familiar is familiar. For better and for worse, we are a family over here on our isolated slice of earth. I was happy to get back to what I know.

______________________________________

My key take-away was probably this:

Even here at home we stereotype and judge. The harsh New Englander, the Southern Belle, the West Coast New Ager, the midwest farmer – we can all list off jokes about the neighboring state. Some can travel among the different regions with ease, but some really struggle with what feels like such a different culture – right here at home. So imagine taking that global. I was a little apprehensive based on the negative stereotypes you hear that other countries have of us. I did, at times, feel like a bumbling American. I’m positive that at times I actually WAS a bumbling American.

What struck me most though was our need to stereotype. Our need to down grade someone else’s culture and lift up our own. There are things that I love about the UK, and there are things I love about the US. There are things I wish they would do differently and there are things that I wish we would do differently. I think the key – for all of us, whether it is fitting in to a new school or fitting into a new country – is to appreciate what we appreciate and let the rest fall by. Differences don’t have to be labeled good or bad, sometimes they can just be differences. If you prefer your way, and I prefer mine, that is of no matter -we will just do our own thing.

I will, if it is within our means, take my children overseas when they are older – 16 and 18 perhaps. I want them to be old enough to at least have a slight inkling that the world doesn’t revolve around them. I think that there is something about going through customs, being allowed to visit someone else’s homeland, that humbles you a bit. The history and beauty is astounding. The accents are fabulous. The chance to fall in love with someone else’s home while retaining the love of your home – that is priceless.

York Minster, 637AD, Seriously.

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I'm not often quiet. I'm not often still. I'm not often not thinking.

I think about what I have to do at work, what needs to be done around the house, and what to make for dinner. I think about whether or not I'm a good mom, or a good wife, and I think about how we can make a dent in poverty. I think about how to be a better photographer, when I can write more often, and what my life would be like if we became kind of Amish.

I think about how to raise a sensitive boy and a strong girl. I think about gender stereotypes and where they come from and what they really mean for my kids future. I think about all the littles in the world who aren't well loved and how we must figure out how to help them. I think about all the bigs who are angry and hurt and how to help them. I think about all the myriad of ways that I am short-sighted, short-tempered, and straight up wrong, and I wonder how to help myself.

If I stop thinking I pick up my ipad and I read about poverty and child development, and ancient cultures. I try to, on a daily basis, read my bible, work out, and play with my kids. Inside my head, and outside my head, it is a busy life.

And then one day I went on vacation, and I didn't think at all. All week. Seriously.

I didn't plan, I didn't read, and I didn't think deeply beyond a deep and abiding gratitude.

I didn't worry about work, or think about what to eat. I didn't read or try to solve anyone's problems, apart from the occasional sibling drama.

Not thinking really got me thinking. And now I think the enemy, bad karma, whatever you believe negative forces to be, I believe they thrive in busy. It's where we lose our relationships.

There is a great meme going around – wait, side note:

meme /mēm/

1. An element of a culture or behavior that may be passed from one individual to another by nongenetic means, esp. imitation.

2. An image, video, etc. that is passed electronically from one Internet user to another.

(I've been pronouncing that wrong and wondering just exactly what it is for some time. Now I feel better.)

Anyway, there is a great meme making the rounds. Well, here it is:


I'm going to have to go make one up for me and it's going to say:

“Don't let yourself become so busy trying to create a great life that you forget you already have one!”

It's ok to stop. We are biblically directed to rest. Our culture has become so obsessed with productivity that we have forgotten that it requires periods of inactivity. At least I had. Maybe it is less that I had forgotten but more that I didn't think I had time.

I am going to do a better job of unplugging. Unplugging not only my electronics, but unplugging my relentless thinking. I'm going to go on 'vacation' at least once a day. Just take some time – 15 minutes, and hour, two, and just be. I'm going to plan more day trips for the family where we get away from our responsibilities and just let them wait. It will all be here when we get back, that much is certain.

Sometimes it is easier to work at creating something that it is to sit in the midst of it. But it is time that we all learn how to stop and listen. Rest and pay attention. Honor the people that are in our midst and forget about the chaos that is in our minds.

Vacation was new to me – not something we did a lot of when I was growing up. I didn't really understand the value of it. But it is incredibly valuable. It will be a priority for us going forward. It's a full week away together to remember what the busyness of life is so adept at making us forget.

We are enough. Full stop.

 

Ok, so I don't know if it is vacation brain or what but I'm totally incapable of writing a post tonight – so I'm going to share some links to some amazing things I think you will enjoy and a few things I just think everyone should be aware of:

For inspiration:

Today's Momastery post features the author, Glennon Melton's, inspiring Tedx talk – if you aren't familiar with Ted you probably will be before the night's over, because my first three links are Ted talks. It's an awesome reservoir of information – in any field of interest you may have. Talks are held all over the world where thought leaders come together to share their incredible ideas. A dream of mine would be to talk at a Ted talk one day…if only.

Glennon shares her thoughts on being vulnerable and real and true. God is working on me in this area – we will see…

To see things differently:

Another Ted talk I've been meaning to share is this one by Dan Pallotta. It turns the way I have evaluated charities on it's head. He makes some great points on why we must allow charities to function like businesses if they are going to be able to make really big differences.

Dan shares his experience with running a very successful charity and why it eventually failed.

For a new perspective:

Here is one that made the rounds – it's a talk on introversion and it is fabulous. Especially if you are raising an introvert or are one yourself (or both, like me:). Susan Cain has a book out now, 'Quiet' – amazing research.

I hope you enjoy. Have a great week!

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